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Scots 'short changed on pensions'
1:24pm Monday 12th May 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Lower life expectancy in Scotland means people are being "short changed", with some receiving up to £50,000 less in state pension payments than senior citizens south of the border, Scotland's new Pensioner's Rights Secretary said.
While life expectancy in Scotland is increasing, it is still the lowest in the UK.
That means that 65-year-old men north of the border can expect to live 1.2 years less than the average for the UK as a whole, while for women the difference is 1.3 years.
Scottish Government research shows a 65-year-old man receiving a pension of £160 a week will be £10,000 worse off, with that rising to £11,000 for women.
But for men in Glasgow, where life expectancy is lowest, they could receive £50,000 less in pension payments than a man in Harrow, where life expectancy is highest.
Women in Glasgow could receive £46,000 less than those in Camden, where female life expectancy is highest in the UK.
Shona Robison, who was last month appointed Secretary for Pensioner's Rights in the Scottish Cabinet, said: "This research makes clear that Scots are already short changed when it comes to pensions.
"If we stay tied to the Westminster pension and welfare system, and the state pension age rises at the same pace in Scotland as in the rest of the UK, the risk is that this problem will be compounded."
The UK Government plans to increase the retirement age to 66 for men and women by 2020, and then increase it further to 67 from 2026.
But the SNP has pledged that in the first year of an independent Scotland it would set up a commission to consider the appropriate pace of change for the retirement age beyond 66.
Ms Robison argued: "The lower life expectancy in Scotland means it would be fairer for people in Scotland if the increase in the pension age was postponed.
"That is why it is right for Scotland to consider a state pension age relatively lower than the rest of the UK.
"I am concerned about Westminster's accelerated timetable for increasing the state pension age to 67 as it so unfairly disadvantages Scots.
"People living in disadvantaged areas miss out even more - with men in Glasgow seeing £50,000 less over their lifetime than someone of the same age living in Harrow.
"We want to make sure that the pension age suits Scottish circumstances - and, on average, people in Scotland have fewer years in retirement receiving the state pension because life expectancy is lower."
She added: " Life expectancy is improving but progress will take time, and we don't want Scots to be disadvantaged in the meantime."
The Scottish Government research showed for the period 2010 to 2012, men and women in Glasgow City had the lowest life expectancy in Scotland and the UK.
It stated: "Assuming an entitlement of £160 per week, a 65-year-old man from Glasgow City can expect his state pension lifetime value to be £29,000 less than if they had the male life expectancy of the UK and £50,000 less than Harrow, which has the highest life expectancy at 65 in the rest of the UK.
"On the same basis, a 65-year-old woman from Glasgow City can expect a lifetime value worth £22,000 less than if they had the female life expectancy of the UK and £46,000 less than Camden (highest in rUK)."
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: " This research clearly sets out why examining a delay to the increase in retirement age beyond 66 would be the fairest option for people in Scotland.
"We have already confirmed that we will establish a commission to consider the appropriate pace of further change to the retirement age beyond 66.
"The commission would report to the Scottish Parliament within the first two years of independence, allowing us to make decisions which take into account Scottish circumstances."
Ms Sturgeon stressed spending on social protection - which includes pensions and welfare - is "more affordable in Scotland than in the rest of the UK - and has been lower for the last five years".
She added that the National Institute of Economic Social Research had suggested "individual pensions in Scotland are between 6% to 8% cheaper compared to the rest of the UK".
But Scottish Labour MP and shadow pensions minister Gregg McClymont insisted: " The experts are clear - pensions are more affordable as part of the UK because we can pool our resources to share out the costs of Scotland's rapidly growing elderly population.
"No amount of cooking the books can wish these facts away and the Scottish Government should just be straight with people.
"For the Nationalists to suggest the best way to be able to pay for pensions in Scotland is if we continue to die younger is frankly appalling. If this is the extent of the Nationalists' ambition for Scotland the Scottish Government should be ashamed and immediately apologise for insulting the intelligence of Scots."
He added: " The Nationalists want to make this a Scotland v England contest, but there are huge differences in life expectancy across Scotland's towns and cities. The life expectancy of a man from the east end of Glasgow is significantly shorter than for someone from Bearsden. Instead of trying to create more divisions we should be working to improve the life expectancy of all the people of our isles.
"The Scottish Parliament already has the power to improve the life expectancy of Scots, with control over health, education and local services. Maybe if Nicola Sturgeon focused more on the day job instead of spending all her time campaigning for separation things would improve.
"As part of the UK we can have the best of both worlds - our strong Scottish Parliament, with the guarantee of more powers, taking key decisions about health and education; and the protection for our pensions that comes from being part of the larger UK. Only separation puts that at risk."
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw accused the Scottish Government of "disgracefully trying to shoehorn this into a Scotland v England debate, in the hope it will generate some more animosity and boost the Yes vote in September".
But the Tory MSP said: "T he fact is inequality exists across the board, and as we know the life expectancy gap between rich and poor in Scotland is vast too.
"The electorate will see through this ill-informed and divisive narrative, which is only being ramped up by the Scottish Government with one thing in mind.
"Next (First Minister) Alex Salmond will be criticising English people for having the temerity to live longer, rather than trying to address the social issues which lead to such poor life expectancy rates in some parts of Scotland."
However Blair Jenkins, the chief executive of the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign, said leaving the UK would give Scotland "the opportunity to protect and build on the successes of the Scottish Parliament in delivering for older people, such as free personal care and the free bus pass. We can do what's right for older Scots".
Mr Jenkins added: " Successive Westminster governments have been criticised for their approach to pensions - from Gordon Brown's tax raid on pension funds to the current Tory-led reforms to the state pension which, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, will see the vast majority of pensioners worse off and yet the Westminster Government spends billions of pounds on maintaining a nuclear arsenal.
"Older Scots know only too well the benefits of living in a society where we look out for one another and make sure people can lead comfortable lives in their later years. That hasn't been a top priority for any UK government in a very long time. In Scotland we value strong public services and decent homes, and the record of the Scottish Parliament is much better than Westminster in delivering on these priorities."
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said delaying increasing the pension age to 67 could cost an independent Scotland about £6 billion in additional pensions costs between 2026-27 and 2035-36.
A DWP spokesman: " We recognise that our older people have worked hard and paid into the system all their lives and that is why we are introducing a flat-rate pension which will provide a fair and decent income for decades to come.
"Spending on pensions along with benefits and other public services in Scotland is more affordable as part of the UK. This is because the broad shoulders of the UK help to spread risk and provide a crucial safety net against an ageing population in Scotland.
"The current Scottish Government have still not said how they are going to pay for around £1.55bn a year social security costs over the next two decades. It needs to come clean about how it would fund these proposals - it is difficult to see how this support would be maintained without higher taxes or cuts to services."
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume called on the Scottish Government to do more to improve life expectancy.
"The SNP seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick here," he said
"People are dying earlier in Scotland and the first instinct of the Nationalists appears to be to hit the calculator to work out how much pension they will miss out on.
"Most people will think the bigger priority is working out how we can help more people live longer, healthier lives with their families."